Yerevan

Evening view of Yerevan, Armenia by CC user znersessian on Flickr

Introduction

Nestled amidst mountains that includes the picturesque and storied Mount Ararat, the place where it is believed that Noah’s Ark came to rest after the Great Flood, Yerevan is a place that embodies the heart of a place steeped in early Christian lore. In more recent times, this city was re-made in the image of St. Petersburg, Russia by the newly appointed Soviet authorities, who took control of Armenia in the early 20th century.

As a result, this capital city was been graced by numerous fascinating structures constructed from the pink stones that were quarried from the surrounding area, making this metropolis in the middle of the Caucasus a pleasant place to sight see before heading out on your wanderings through the culturally and historically rich countryside.

St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral by CC user huvas on Flickr

Cultural Experiences

Yerevan is an ancient city, being the one of the first places to adopt Christianity as a state religion. One of the structures that allowed this place to become established was Erebuni Fortress, a military stronghold that provided badly needed protection in this area nearly 3,000 years ago. While the complex is understandably in ruins in the present day, the foundation walls are still largely intact, which is astounding considering its age. Wall paintings, while not the original works back from the days when this place was a functioning installation, also grants some insight into what life was like back in the early days of this mountain settlement.

Having embraced Christianity not long after Jesus’ disciples started spreading the word of their saviour, Armenia and Yerevan have long had a strong connection to the church. Over time, they developed their own sect of the faith, with Armenian Apostolic Church setting up houses of worship all throughout the mountain kingdom. Of all the churches in Yerevan related to this sect, two stand out and are worth your time: these are St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral & Katoghike.

The former is a massive cathedral built in modern times to celebrate 1,700 years as a Christian nation, being completed on time in 2001. The primary sight here, apart from the gigantic portions of its construction, are the holy relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator, repatriated from the Vatican for this special occasion.

Katoghike on the other hand, is the oldest standing church in Yerevan. Dating from the 13th century, it has survived earthquakes and tear down attempts from Soviet forces, which is incredibly fortunate due to its atmospheric interior, which its walls being composed of tufa stone.

If you’re feeling a sudden urge to appreciate some modern art, you’re in an excellent place, as present day Armenians have a distinct taste for it. As such, be sure to check out the Cafesjian Museum of Modern Art, as it features the eclectic collection of its namesake Gerard Cafesjian, which features pieces by Andy Warhol, Marc Chagall, and others. Glass art is also a speciality of this museum, as an entire floor is dedicated to Swarovski crystal chandeliers.

Republic Square by CC user ninastoessinger on Flickr

Other Attractions

One of the centrepiece attractions of the Soviets remodelling of the old city of Yerevan is Republic Square, one of the greatest examples of early Soviet city planning anywhere in the world. Construction on this public meeting place started in 1926, with the final touches being put into place more than thirty years later in 1958. Today, it is a brilliant place to go at any point of the day, with the characteristic pink buildings containing museums, hotels and government buildings framing the square perfectly, and a giant fountain performs a show complete with music and lights in the evening.

In the early 20th century, one of the worst crimes in human history took place in Armenian communities throughout the Ottoman empire. Able bodied men were slaughtered and forced to work until death, while others were death marched into the desiccated depths of the Syrian desert. All in all, upwards of 1.5 million Armenians were lost in an incident that gave rise to the term genocide. The Armenian Genocide Memorial, located on a hill above Yerevan,recognizes this horrendous time in human history with a moving monument containing an eternal flame at its centre, as well as a museum detailing the horror of that time.

Finally, to end on a lighthearted note, a quirky attraction that will put you in touch with an intriguing local will prove to be an excellent way to spend your final afternoon in Armenia. One day 22 years ago, a man that was digging a potato cellar for his wife suddenly felt compelled by God to keep digging tunnels through the earth underneath his house. Today,Levon’s Divine Underground¬†is the result of this slightly OCD compulsion, where visitors can explore his network of carved tunnels, which comes complete with a prayer room where you can make a wish to the Almighty.

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